Friday, December 4, 2020

Wandering, But Not Very Far

The Scamp hasn't been out of the garage since February. I haven't been out as much either. Early in November I headed out looking for a spot that might make sense for an EarthCache.

I enjoyed the early morning wander, and managed to find a couple geocaches I'd ignored, but didn't find a view point that depicted what I'd hoped to feature. 

Another day, BJ and I headed out to Goldfield Ghost Town. We've been there before, many times, but on this visit noticed things we'd never noticed before.

Crowds were light enough that I could get a picture without people in it. Those that we did see were all masked up but we didn't see anyone wearing spurs or sidearms.

We had several major fires in the area this year. BJ and I headed out for a geocache that was a potential First to Find. It was obvious that the trail we used had served as the fire line. One side was crispy, the other side still had its normal vegetation.

Yes, there's a bit of a theme. A friend and I headed out just as the sun was adding some color to the sky. We were on a mission.

The goal for the day was to visit surviving sections of the original highway that ran from Mesa to Payson. Some portions have remained in use as Forest Service roads. Other sections left signs of cuts on the hillsides, but the road surface had disappeared.

We found what we were looking for, and got to learn a bunch of interesting history while completing several short hikes. All told, a very good day!

Last week we headed out to visit the area along the Hewitt Canyon road. BJ and her SAR friends know the road well since it heads to a couple of the wilderness trail heads. 

I had no idea we had an arch in the area until we went hunting a geocache. Not far from the road, but uphill was the primary descriptor! A beautiful spot that I wouldn't have noticed if not for the geocache.

As always, there are questions. Which came first, the crack in the boulder or the tree root? I'd show more of this area, but I'm hoping I can jump through enough hoops to get permission to have an EarthCache here.

Meanwhile, I'm seeing if any of my "ancient history" skills and knowledge can be revived. When I started adapting the Silver Subie, I knew an engine overhaul was in it's future.

I got it all broken down and was super pleased to see very minimal wear internally. The cylinder heads are at the machine shop and should be ready today. Most of the parts have arrived and the rest should be here by tomorrow. I'm loving doing this on my schedule. I suspect it will be a couple weeks before I have it back together - the nice thing is there's no rush.

Guess this sums it up!

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Floating the Green River

This blog post is very different from my normal style. For my regular readers, feel free to ignore it. It’s my attempt to try to capture some helpful information about paddle powered trips on the flatwater sections of the Green River in Utah. 

The flatwater portion of the Green River is commonly included in lists of the best flatwater float trips in the United States and for good reason. Amazingly enough, most of these lists seem to think you should be in a hurry. It’s 120 miles from the town of Green River to the confluence and I’ve seen at least one magazine publisher that says you could do it in 3 days without providing any of the caveats.

If you’re going to do the Green, you have some choices to make. Spring, Summer, or Fall?Canoe, Kayak, SUP, or Raft? Labyrinth Canyon, Stillwater Canyon, or both? Green River State Park, Crystal Geyser, Ruby Ranch, or Mineral Bottom launch point? Solo, small group, or large group? Freeze dried or gourmet? How Fast? Obviously, personal preferences, finances, time availability, and skills are going to impact your choices.

Which Season?Lots of people do the Green in the spring because they like the faster currents that come with the higher water levels. You can check current or historic water levels at Green River and now also at Mineral Bottom. The downside of spring is fewer campsites since you’ll be limited to just high-water sites. Summer is HOT but many people do it then because that’s when they have vacation. Fall is my personal preference. Water levels are typically low and flow is slower but sandbar camps are plentiful and most of the bugs are gone.

Boat Choice? I started doing the Green 20 years ago. The first couple years, I used a large whitewater kayak because that’s what I had. For a couple years after that, I used wood strip sea kayaks because they had more space and speed, but since then I’ve used a solo or a tandem canoe since it’s much easier to haul the groover* in a canoe than a kayak. In the past couple years, we’ve seen an increasing number of stand-up paddleboards. Only once did we see a solo, self-supported SUP. Usually it’s a small group of SUPs with a canoe or two to help haul their gear. It’s not unusual to see rafts, but… if you see a raft on the Stillwater section, they are headed to the whitewater of Cataract Canyon and taking out near Hite on Lake Powell. *All feces must be hauled out using an approved toilet system in accordance with your river permit.

Which Section? John Wesley Powell named Labyrinth and Stillwater canyons during his explorations of the Green and Colorado rivers in the mid 1800’s. Labyrinth Canyon is the upper section and includes the famous Bow Knot bend. It is managed by the BLM and requires a free permit. Stillwater Canyon technically starts below Mineral Bottom, but the Mineral Bottom boat ramp is commonly used to differentiate between the two sections. The Stillwater Canyon section flows through Canyonlands National Park. The Park starts at approximately river mile 47 and requires a permit issued by the NPS. There’s no charge for the flatwater day use permit, but the flatwater overnight permit carries a $30 reservation fee plus $20 per person.

Mineral Bottom can be a zoo!
Which Launch Point? There are four launch points on the flatwater portion of the Green River.

  1. Green River State Park in Green River, Utah is 120 river miles from the confluence or 68 miles from Mineral Bottom. There is a small fee for launching here.
  2. Crystal Geyser is five miles below the state park on river left. It’s actually cold water that erupts a couple times a day. People launching here add about 18 miles to a Labyrinth trip but avoid the fees that Ruby Ranch charges. The vast majority of the river banks between Green River and Ruby are privately owned.
  3. Ruby Ranch is a historic private ranch down a long and bumpy road but it won’t be the only long and bumpy road you might see. They currently charge $10 per boat and $5 per person to launch here, but it’s the launch point closest to where the canyon starts to rise from the river. Since we enjoy the Green River for the canyons, this is our preferred place to launch if we’re doing the Labyrinth.
  4. Mineral Bottom is the take-out for people doing the Labyrinth Canyon section and the put-in for people just doing the Stillwater Canyon section. The years that we’ve done both sections it has been a mandatory stop since we’ve had people joining our group at that point. Mineral Bottom is reached by a long and bumpy road that also includes a very steep, narrow, switchback section that provides great views of a bit of the river.

Group Size - The first time I did a section of the Green there were just two of us using whitewater boats. The next year we invited anyone that wanted to go from the local paddling club and ended up with 10 on the trip. Typically we’ve had 4 to 6 on a trip which keeps it small enough to be able to fit into some smaller campsites. The Labyrinth permit is limited to 25 people. The Canyonlands permit is limited to 40 which seems totally insane to me, but then enjoying the quiet while watching the shadows on the cliffs is what draws me back nearly every year. Every year we do see solos on the river and I’ve thought about it at times but I’ve never had my “must invites” turn down a trip invitation.

Food Style - We’ve done gourmet including barbequed ribeye steaks at Anderson Bottom one year and fresh made cinnamon rolls at the confluence another year, but tend towards boxed or canned meals from the grocery store. Most trips will be seen hauling ice chests but we’ve always gone lighter and smaller since I’m lazy and don’t want to handle a bunch of extra stuff.

How Fast depends on you. We clearly choose to travel slower than most groups. I’ve seen lots of groups planning 20 mile days in the fall but we enjoy a slower pace. Our trip pace has slowed down over the years and we’ll plan in at least one weather day (or two or three) since we’ve discovered breaking down and setting up camp is work that really doesn’t have to happen every day. Camps that provide some shade and a view and a place to hike will get a layover day if possible. Our latest trip was the 52 mile Stillwater canyon section. We took 9 days (including the jetboat shuttle day) while most groups we saw on the river were doing it in 5 days or so, including the upstream shuttle.

Since camps are first come and sandbars change every year, you may need a plan B and plan C. Since we always do the trip in late September to early October, we tend to avoid highwater (ledge) camps since they’re more work to get the gear from the boats to the camp and back. Sandbars are typically our first choice for overnight stops but I’ll admit to having a short list of highwater camps that we love, especially if we have a spare weather day to spend.

While I approach this (as do most people) from a paddle powered perspective, it is possible to see an occasional outboard on a jon boat or a raft or the NPS J-rigs. For years, the towns of Green River and Moab sponsored the Friendship Cruise over Memorial Day weekend which involved power boats going down the Green to the confluence and then up the Colorado to the Potash boat ramp outside of Moab. The Friendship Cruise website hasn’t been updated in years so I don’t know the current status. 

I’ve done one or more sections of the Green 16 times in the past 20 years. Twice I’ve seen someone paddling upstream, once on the Green river and once on the Colorado. The guy on the Green (20 years ago) had paddled to the confluence and was working his way back to Mineral Bottom when we saw him. I have no idea how many days it took him!

Helpful Sources The Belknap's Waterproof Canyonlands River Guide seems to be the default, but I prefer the much larger RiverMaps Guide to the Colorado & Green Rivers in the Canyonlands of Utah & Colorado because of the much better maps. The National Geographic Trails Illustrated map #210 of Canyonlands is reasonably useful, but only for Mineral Bottom down. It will give you the big picture, but the scale leaves you wanting more detail. Kelsey’s River Guide to Canyonlands National Park and Vicinity has abominable maps but in some ways it's my favorite because of the excellent information about the human history in the canyons. For example, he tells about the construction of the Mineral Bottom (Horsethief trail) road, the loss of a D8 Caterpillar while ferrying across the river at the lower end of Woodruff Bottom, and points out spots where uranium adits and mines were located. (The four links in this paragraph all point to Amazon. I do NOT get any benefit from Amazon.)

Shuttles: There are several services that support Labyrinth Canyon. Some have equipment rental as well as shuttle service while others provide just shuttle of your personal vehicle. They can be located wtih a quick Google search. There are two permit holders for jet boat services from Spanish Bottom and the confluence back to Moab. The past couple of years, one of those operators has not operated in the fall low-water season. I’ve always used Tex’s Riverways for our Stillwater Canyon trips and can’t say enough good stuff about them. The jet boat back up the Colorado to Moab is the cherry to top off a wonderful Green River trip full of new memories.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Deadhorse Down

One of the joys of Deadhorse is that there is afternoon shade. After getting camp set up on the sand berm at the mouth of the wash we went off to explore. The high camp (another 10' higher and a slippery path) was huge but would have been lots of work to access.

We were planning a layover day specifically so that we could go hiking. In 2015, we'd hiked to Newspaper Rock from the lower Cabin Bottom campsite. This time, we wanted to try the route from the other direction. It involved finding a way up the dry fall from the north side of the perched meander not far up the canyon from camp.

Route finding skills were important, not only for working up through the dry falls but also keeping track of the place to start back down on our return. Once we were up on the mesa, the view was expansive in all directions and the river disappeared - at least for awhile.

I didn't think to try to recreate the picture from our 2015 trip, but this one, while tighter, was from the same location. (And, yes, BJ checked to confirm there were no petroglyphs where she was leaning.) All told, it was about 2 miles round trip from camp. 

When we got back down to the wash in the canyon, the others went back to camp while I walked up the canyon. I heard that it dead-ended in a dry fall, but I didn't get that far since I'd told them I would be back in camp within an hour. Next time...

On Saturday, October 3rd, we left Deadhorse to continue downstream. Our campanions did a great job of demonstrating the amount of effort required to navigate on this calm morning.

This is the first year that we've passed the mouth of Horse canyon and found no bugs. On the flip side, it was much splashier than any of us remembered. We weren't sure where we were going to end up but we knew we needed to "waste" some time.

The sandbar on the inside of the corner at river mile 11.7 became our home for the evening. It wasn't as nice as previous years and we needed to spread out to find level spots for our tents, but it did offer some afternoon shade. 

The next day we continued our drift downstream. We'd heard that there was a huge sandbar in the mouth of Water Canyon but it turned out to be on river left across from the canyon. Since it didn't have any shade, we gave it a pass and continued on, rapidly running out of river.

We thought of going to the confluence and taking a layover day there, but we'd heard that Upper Spanish was marginal this year, while both middle and lower involve very steep carries to high camps. Instead, we called a sandbar on the left at river mile 3 our home. 

The next morning, we didn't leave camp until 10 a.m. because we didn't want to arrive at the confluence until after the jet boat had done its pickups. That wait put the sun angle just right for yet another reflection picture, this time about river mile 2.

The sandbar on river right at the confluence was huge this year. We washed the boats, ate some lunch, and then headed across the expanse of sand with our chairs to sit in the shade of a large tree at the base of the hill.

It was a lazy morning for our last morning on the river for this trip, watching the sunlight start its way down the hill while the moon continued its travel towards the west.

Our chariot passed by, right on schedule, and then returned after picking up groups that had camped further down the Colorado. Our group of four and another group of two loaded here and we headed upstream with another fun Green River trip in the books.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Creatures of Habit

It's Fall, so it must be time for our nearly annual Green River trip. As usual, we started our trip at Tex's Riverways office in Moab. Once again, we were the first ones to arrive, thanks to breakfast taking less time than anticipated. 

For the third year in a row, we brought our 16' Souris River tandem canoe while Kathy & Willie used their Wild River 14' tandem. We had 2 other parties launching with us - 2 couples in rented Old Town canoes and a single fellow in a rented Grumman canoe.

This year, we planned 8 nights on the river to do the 52 miles from Mineral Bottom through the Stillwater canyon. (Many people plan to do this trip in half the time, but we enjoy being lazy!) The winds were blowing pretty good on launch day so we elected to use one of our layover days before we ever got on the river. The sun was just starting to glow on the cliffs across the river the next morning, reflecting in the glassy water.

One of the joys of paddling in low/no wind conditions is that it's easier paddling and easier to read the river but the part I enjoy most is the reflections on the calm water.

Typically when we do the Stillwater section, camp for our first night on the river is somewhere near Fort Bottom. This year, thanks to launching a couple hours earlier than normal, we were able to claim the sandbar near the trailhead. As usual, it was well after we'd made our reservations that we realized this was going to be a full moon trip. The camera doesn't like to focus on the moon but I liked the reflection!

Sometimes, the reflections are so overwhelming that it's a bit challenging to pick out the channel which changes from year to year.

The river was MUCH clearer than we'd ever seen it. We're used to having less than 2 inches of visibility but this year we had over 18 inches. Apparently a number of the muddy feeder streams were dry this year. Even so, you have to keep a close eye for the shoals that would send you walking if you didn't pay enough attention!

The view as we drifted along the White Rim on river left approaching the Millard riffle didn't disappoint. The riffle was splashier than it has been. The line I choose managed to get BJ a bit wet but we avoided every single rock so I was happy.

We hoped that we would be able to access a favorite spot at Bonita Bend but another party was already there so we continued on to a sandbar at river mile 29 for the night. This day was the busiest day we experienced this trip with two groups camped within a mile upstream and one camped downstream on the sandbar at the top of Valentine Bottom.

Unlike most previous years, we weren't planning to camp at Turks Head this year. It's a good thing! The sandbar that we used several previous trips was totally sheared off this year, leaving just an 8 foot tall wall of sand.

We'd gambled on the camp at Deadhorse Canyon. Dave & I stayed there the first time I did this section of the Green twenty years ago but I'd not been back since. With just a small group and a report that sand had built up in the mouth of the canyon, this was our goal. There were two kayaks there when we arrived but they were just finishing a hike and were continuing on, so we claimed it for our own.

I can't cram it all into one post, so there will be another post in a couple weeks or so.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Creative Cache Lifecycle

 With overnight temps occasionally dipping below 90 degrees, it's time to get out and do my annual visitation to my geocaches, assuming they don't get consumed by one of our many forest fires first. This year, I have a number of caches on my list that I'm considering for archival.

I removed Shave & a Haircut. While the log was easily accessible, the inner container (which was a play on the title) was stuck in the water bottle when the bottle shrunk due to the Arizona heat. This one lasted 33 months, but wasn't one of my better ideas.

Surf's Up had a good run, lasting 48 months before I decided to remove it. Since it was a puzzle cache, it didn't get as much traffic and the majority of people that did find it struggled to get it open which suggests they didn't get the SharkBite brand reference (push-on plumbing fittings) for the container. The idea for this one developed from a cache in Flagstaff that utilized a SharkBite(tm) fitting.

Pegleg's Black Gold was a nice idea but lived a very hard life. This was the original, before it was placed. It leveraged a worn out shoe and the leg off a worn out pair of blue jeans. Even though it was cabled in place, the original got stolen (or the pack rats ate the cable as well as everything else!) This was one of a set of three that were placed at the same time. Capt. Kidd's Treasure lasted less than 18 months. This cache lasted a total of 56 months but was rebuilt a couple times. 

When I rebuilt it, I used a heavier boot which stood up to the pack rats although they did seem to appreciate the laces and the hooks. The blue jean portion was replaced at least three times but the caches has gotten to the place that the pack rats appreciate it more than the cachers. With one little shred of jean left, it's time to archive this one. The third one of the set (Lost Dutchman) remains in play. It's container looks like it could survive a year yet.

At one time, I had two bone caches. Both used sundried calf bones that we spotted when we were out caching one day. Online naysayers said you couldn't use a bone, but turns out they weren't right. This one, Dust to Dust, lasted 53 months, using a bison tube for the log container inside the hollow bone. It's time to free up the spot for something else, whatever that might be.

Button, Button, like it's Now What? siblings, was constructed of wood. Unlike the others which are still in play, I've never been totally happy with this one since I couldn't get a consistent fit with the dowels. Most often, it would fall apart when you picked it up. No fun having a field puzzle that solved itself! 'Sides that, ground cover was no longer adequate, but it did survive for 4 1/2 years. The ammo can will likely be used again someday for something different.

The cache description was the key to this one. It was placed fairly early in my geocaching experience and has done much better than I had any reason to expect. Once again, an oddball container with a "punnish" description worked, but now it's time to open up some space for something different. Shooting in the Desert had a good run - 57 months.

It hasn't all been archiving. I did find a place for Signal's Travel Planner. It's a gadget cache based on some concepts from the June Gadgettalk podcast. I'm hoping folks enjoy it.